Shorter, Faster, Better? One-Year MBA Programs in the US

A growing number of US-based business schools are offering one-year MBAs. How do they stack up to their two-year counterparts?

A one-year MBA can be an efficient path to the degree, but it's not for everyone

In the MBA world, shorter is better, right? Indeed, the pace of modern life means that many students don’t want to take two years off to complete their MBA.

“The world is changing so quickly, everything seems to be accelerated,” says Katie Lloyd, senior director of MBA admissions at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. “When you're out of the market for two years, you can lose out on some opportunities.”

Unfortunately for those looking to rush through business school, the one-year MBA trend has never really caught on in the US like it has elsewhere. While it’s the predominate format in other places, such as the UK and Europe, one-year MBA programs are still a rarity in the US.

“In a large part, the two-year program just became the standard, so people are very comfortable with that,” says Lloyd, who’s currently writing a dissertation on one-year MBA programs.

However, a small but growing number of American business schools do offer one-year MBA options. Beyond the Goizueta program, there are also offerings from schools like the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School of Business (which was, in 1963, the first US business school to offer a one-year MBA), Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Since 2009, at least six US business schools, including the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, and the University of Rochester's Simon Business School, have launched various one-year MBA programs.

These shorter programs generally cover the same curriculum as their two-year counterparts, with some tweaks. Students in Cornell’s one-year MBA program, for instance, start the program in the summer and take accelerated classes before joining up with the school’s two-year cohort in the fall.

This summer-start format is typical for many US-based one-year MBAs, although not for other programs, such as the Accelerated MBA offered by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Management, which starts in the fall.

Many one-year MBAs in the US require applicants to have solid quant skills

Got quant skills?

Whereas most two-year MBA programs are fairly open in terms of the academic background of their students, one-year admissions tend to be more restrictive. Often, because students are thrown into deeply quantitative work very quickly, these programs require that applicants have already studied business or another field where they’ve been able to gain significant quantitative aptitude.

For example, to apply for the one-year MBA program at Babson College, candidates should have at least a bachelor’s degree in business, or have a demonstrated foundation of quant skills in an area like accounting, statistics, or finance. Likewise, applicants for the one-year MBA program at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business generally have an undergraduate degree in business or significant work experience, and are required to have taken financial accounting and statistics courses in the past.

Other one-year MBAs—such as Cornell’s—require that applicants either have an advanced degree—such as a CPA, a JD, or a PhD—or significant work experience.

The top 10 one-year MBA programs in the US

Faster is not always better

While attractive to some, the shorter program duration is a possible drawback for others. Especially for those who aren’t sure what they want to do after graduation, two years can provide for more career experimentation, through electives, networking events, and the like.

For potential one-year MBA students, this means that they need to have a good sense of what they want to do, even before they start the program.

“Your career goal, you need to have it somewhat narrow before you start down this path,” says Amanda Shaw, assistant dean of Cornell’s one-year MBA program, “because you won't have as long to explore.”

Too fast? For those who need an internship or want to take more electives, a one-year MBA may not be the best choice

Business school officials point to the lack of an internship as one of the main tradeoffs in pursuing a one-year MBA.

“As far as a trade-off between a one- and a two-year program,” says Thomas Keller, Katz’s director of admissions, “one of the biggest trade-offs being made is that you're giving up the summer to take those additional MBA classes and do an internship.”

For some one-year MBA participants, the lack of an internship—which can effectively serve as an in-depth interview for a post-MBA job—might be a dealbreaker.

“The one-year students come in with a more narrow career focus, and that's something that we look for in the admissions process,” according to Cornell’s Amanda Shaw, “because there won't be an internship to facilitate a job trial period.”

Often, the lack of an internship serves to limit student expectations, at least in terms of making large career shifts. If you can’t test out a radically different career, it might be safer to stay with what you know.

However, according to Emory’s Katie Lloyd, “some industry switches are possible.”

And it also might depend on the industry you want to switch into.

“I think that some industries and companies are still prone to hiring out of the summer intern pool,” such the as investment banking and consumer goods industries. “In those industries, it can be a bit more difficult.”

Likewise, some US-bound international students might find that one year is just not enough for the networking required to land a job in the country after graduation.

“We've had students pull it off, but they tend to be career enhancers with above-average experience,” says Katz’s Thomas Keller.

“And to come in and make the career-switch into the US market, in just 12 months, is pretty demanding.”

In addition to the schools mentioned above, one-year MBA programs are also offered by the following US business schools:

  • Boston University - Questrom School of Business: International MBA
  • University of Southern California (USC) - Marshall School of Business: IBEAR MBA
  • University of Florida - Warrington College of Business Administration: One-Year MBA
  • Hult International Business School: One-Year MBA
  • University of Denver - Daniels School of Business: Accelerated MBA
  • Seattle University - Albers School of Business and Economics: Bridge MBA
  • University of Columbia - Columbia Business School: J-Term MBA option (16 months)

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